sun dried tomato and spinach mac n’ cheese

$9.76 recipe / $1.22 serving

Alright people, I’m really excited about this one. This has to be one of the best tasting dishes that I’ve made so far. Unfortunately, it was already dark out when I finished cooking and my camera doesn’t do well with indoor lighting. So, the picture really doesn’t do it justice.

Anyway, I wanted some mac and cheese the other day but I always feel guilty eating it so I decided to justify all the cheese and butter by adding a few veggies. Spinach sauteed in garlic and a few tangy sun dried tomatoes did the trick! I also used a blend of white cheeses (shredded Italian cheese blend) because I felt their flavor would blend better with the spinach and tomatoes than the sharp cheddar that is traditionally used in mac and cheese.

This dish uses a homemade cheese sauce but don’t be afraid! Cheese sauces are much easier than they seem. After you make them a few times you can practically do it with your eyes closed… well, okay, maybe not with your eyes closed but I bet you won’t even have to measure the ingredients!

Sun Dried Tomato and Spinach Mac n' Cheese

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Total Recipe cost: $9.76
Servings Per Recipe: 8+
Cost per serving: $1.22
Prep time: 5 min. Cook time: 45 min. Total: 50 min.

INGREDIENTS COST
14.5 oz. box penne pasta $1.59
1 9oz. bag baby spinach $2.99
1 oz. sun dried tomatoes $1.00
3 cups 2% milk $0.79
3 Tbsp butter $0.39
3 cups shredded cheese (Italian blend) $2.49
1/4 medium yellow onion, diced fine $0.21
1 clove garlic $0.06
3 Tbsp all purpose flour $0.10
1 Tbsp olive oil $0.10
TOTAL $9.76

STEP 1: In a medium skillet, cook the diced garlic clove in 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add the bag of spinach and stir until the spinach has just wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.

wilted spinach

STEP 2: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Put a large pot of water on to boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. While the pasta is cooking, you will begin your sauce. When the pasta is done cooking, save about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain the rest off in a colander. Let the pasta drain the colander until your sauce is done.

STEP 3: Roughly chop the sun dried tomatoes and finely dice the onion. In a medium sauce pan, cook the onions in the 3 Tbsp of butter over medium heat until the onions become transparent. Do not turn the heat any higher than medium. You do not want the butter or onions to brown.

cooked onions

STEP 4: Whisk the 3 Tbsp of flour into the melted butter/onion mixture. You must use a whisk for the next few steps. Continue to whisk and cook the mixture just until it is light golden in color (about 2 minutes). This mixture is called a “roux” and will thicken your cheese sauce!

roux

STEP 5: Whisk the 3 cups of milk into the roux. Add some fresh cracked black pepper and about 1/2 tsp of salt at this point. Allow the milk/roux mixture to come to a simmer. Continue to gently whisk. You will see the sauce begin to thicken as soon as it begins to lightly simmer. Do not turn the heat up or else you risk scalding your sauce and making it “break down”.

STEP 6: Once your sauce has thickened, whisk in the 2 cups of cheese until it has all melted in. Add more salt or pepper to taste. Add the sun dried tomatoes and sauteed spinach to the sauce.

STEP 7: Return your drained pasta to it’s cooking pot. Add the reserved pasta water and stir to loosen the pasta (it has probably cooled and stuck together a bit). Pour your cheese sauce mixture over the pasta and stir to combine. Pour the cheesey pasta into a large casserole dish that has been coated in spray oil. Top the casserole with the remaining 1 cup of cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown! Yummmmm!

finished mac n' cheese

NOTE: Another factor that led to me making mac and cheese this week was the fact that the shredded cheese was on sale for $1.66 a bag (about 25-30 cents less than normal). It really pays to take advantage of sales when you see them! I was also able to find a generic version of my favorite pasta (Barilla Plus) which was about 50 cents less than the name brand.

Sun dried tomatoes can be pretty pricey but it is all about how you use them. The bag I bought was a small 3.5 ounce bag which cost $2.69. Had I not measured and limited myself to 1 ounce for the recipe, I could have easily gone way over budget. The trick was to cut the tomatoes up so that every bite of the casserole gets a little tangy bit of tomato. Prior to chopping the tomatoes, 1 ounce didn’t look like enough but after baking and eating the casserole, I found that it was plenty. We often over estimate how much we need of expensive/potent ingredients. A little bit goes a long way!

20 Comments

  1. It’s definitely better to bake it all at once. :)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Can you make this in advance And refrigerate it before baking or is it better to do the whole process at once?

  3. Did you know you can make your own sundried tomatoes in the oven? You just slice tomatoes in half, put some herbs and olive oil on them (if you want) and bake them at 170 for 10 to 20 hours. You can also do it in a food dehydrator. Most sundried tomatoes aren’t really “sundried” anyway. So this is WAY cheaper!

  4. sounds great cant wait to try this.

  5. Alison says:

    Oh! And I forgot to mention we made it last night and it was SOO good. Thanks again!

  6. Alison says:

    Ooh, I bought Kraft brand, too. Haha, okay. Well I guess I can cope, then!
    And thanks for the FAST reply!

  7. Alison, I live in the south and I do think prices are a bit lower here, but that Italian shredded cheese was the kraft brand that comes in a 2 cup bag just like shredded mozz or cheddar… also, I think I had bought that at walmart and they have the lowest cheese prices by far. Oh, and this post was a couple years ago and cheese prices (even at walmart) have definitely increased! Booo!

  8. Alison says:

    I’ll bet people ask you this all the time, but where do you live? Because a 2-cup pouch of shredded Italian cheeses costs me $5.50 at the supermarket here in NYC. I just want to know if I’m totally off base, is all!

  9. My boyfriend and I made this last night. This is the first recipe we made that he didn’t put hot sauce on because it was good enough as is. It was so delicious, and everyone knows mac and cheese is better the next day. Can’t wait for left overs!

  10. wow, it really takes 4-5 hrs to roast tomatoes? i’ve always wanted to do it because i actually prefer the taste of roasted tomatoes to dried… i will definitely try roasting them next time. i LOVE your idea for roasted vegetable mac n’ cheese too! i love any recipe that uses up veggies before they go bad because to me fresh veggies are like gold and i hate to see them go to waste! thanks victor!!

  11. One idea you can try to cut the cost of this meal is to slow roast tomatoes instead of using the sun dried. All you do is take cherry, plum, or Roma tomatoes, cut them in half, drizzle with oil and a sprinkle of salt and then roast them cut side up at 250 for four to five hours on a baking sheet or roasting pan. It makes the tomatoes amazingly strong and flavorful and almost as potent as the sun dried ones, but you can get a pound for a dollar or two.
    Also, I have been making roasted tomato mac-n-chee for years now and I find that it is a great way to get rid of random veg right before they go bad. You can cut up squash, zucchini, eggplant, arugula, leeks, whatever and it tastes amazing. And if you load up on the vegetables you can cut back on the cheese and it still tastes delicious. I once made it with 2 lbs of pasta and only 2 cups of cheese.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Made this for dinner last night, with leftovers for lunch today and two more in the freezer for when I’m lazy :) (I halved the recipe). Soooooo good!!! Makes a lot of dishes, but definitely worth it. Thanks! Next I’m going to try your first chili recipe, either tonight or tomorrow night!
    Allyson

  13. sure thing, Jeff :)

  14. Very nice, my wife will love this. I also have a recipe blog, would you mind if i link to this. Link only of course.

  15. yeah, it is amazing how much spinach cooks down! that little bit in the pan in the picture above is the whole 9 oz. bag!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Just made this recipe and it’s awesome — thanks Beth! I think I skimped a bit on the spinach though — after adding half of a 9oz bag to my pan, I felt I was overcrowding, and stopped. After putting the whole recipe together in the casserole dish, I realized I probably could have afforded a bit more spinach. This is probably the best tasting, least expensive meal I’ve made in ages.

  17. I don’t know how you could have more it look more tempting. I’m ready to dive in.

  18. yeah, the funny thing is that I didn’t realize until I was dumping all of the cheese into the sauce that I accidentally bought 2% milk cheese… so, the sauce only has 3 Tbsp butter, 2% milk and 2% cheese and it still tasted great! So, that’s always an option.

  19. I just made some home made mac and cheese recently. I was kinda frustrated by the amount of work it was, but then when I tasted it I forgot. And since I knew how bad it was for me it lasted quite a while (over a week). Next time I make it I will have to try your version.

  20. Anonymous says:

    This looks great! Will try!
    Sophie

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